The Invisible War

Rev. Deacon Allen Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
September 29, 2013, Pentecost XIX
St. Michael and All Angels

Daniel 10:10-14, 12:1-3; Psalm 103:19-22, Revelation 12:7-12, Luke 10:17-20

From the Old Testament:
“At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time; but at that time your people shall be delivered, every one whose name shall be found written in the book.”

From the Revelation to St. John:
Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they were defeated and there was no longer any place for them in heaven.

And from the Gospel of St. Luke:
The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread upon serpents and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing shall hurt you.”

Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation.

If I was to ask you a question: do you believe there is “wind?” You can’t see it, but you can feel it. You can see leaves blowing or a person’s hair blowing, so it’s not too difficult to believe that “wind” exists. Now how about a more difficult question: do you believe God exists? Probably 100% of the people here today believe that God exists, otherwise you wouldn’t be here. But you can’t see Him; you can’t physically feel Him usually (although it is possible); and yet we go on faith that God does indeed exist.

What about Satan, does he exist? We can’t see him; we can’t feel him; and yet if we are to believe God’s Holy Word, Satan does indeed exist!

We know the story: Satan was cast out of heaven because he revolted against God, and he took with him a third of the angels, which became demons (Rev. 12, 7, 9). He was once the highest of God’s angels, but he rebelled against God and he became the lowest and was cast down (Isa. 14:12-15).

We need to remember that Satan has access to heaven, where he accuses God’s people; but he cannot dethrone the exalted Saviour. His strategy is to persecute God’s people and devour them if possible (1 Peter 5:8). He has a special hatred for the Jewish people and has been the power behind anti-Semitism from the days of Pharaoh and Haman to Hitler and Stalin. And today there is a growing hatred for Christians as well.

Last week we heard about the Muslim terrorist attack on a shopping mall in Kenya. Some 60 people were killed; many wounded. The gunmen questioned their hostages as to their religious beliefs. If you were Muslim, they let you go; if you were anything else, like Christian or Jew, you were killed. This is a religious war; it’s not invisible; it’s real.

You and I are involved in another conflict today: Satan is out to destroy the church, and our victory can come only through Jesus Christ.

We are at war here in America! Just because you can’t see it, does not mean it doesn’t exist. It’s a dirty war – in some ways, worse than the one we are waging against terrorism. It’s being fought right here on our soil as well as many other nations. It’s a war for the minds and hearts of people – between the forces of good and evil, between God and Satan. It’s being done in our schools, our churches, our government, our courts and our media.

The stakes in this war are high because the price is heaven or hell, life or death, darkness or light, freedom or slavery, reward or punishment.

In time, there will also be an invisible war in heaven. What is this celestial conflict all about? The fact that Michael led God’s angels to victory is significant, because Michael is identified with the nation of Israel (Dan. 10:10-21; 12:1). The name Michael means “who is like God” and this certainly parallels Satan’s egocentric attack on Jehovah. Apparently, the devil’s hatred of Israel will spur him to make one final assault against the throne of God, but he will be defeated by Michael and a heavenly host.

In our Old Testament reading, an angel had come to Daniel to give him a special revelation concerning the Jewish people and what would happen to them in the latter days (Dan. 10:14). We get the impression that the glorious man clothed in linen vanished from the scene and one of the angels, perhaps Gabriel, touched Daniel. The old prophet was on his face on the ground, but the ministry of the angel enabled him to lift himself to his hands and knees. Then the angel spoke to him and this gave him the strength to stand upright.

Daniel’s conversation with the angel reveals to us the important fact that there is an “invisible war” going on in the heavenlies between the forces of evil and the forces of God.

Well-meaning people may scoff at the idea of demonic forces and good and evil angels, and they may caricature Satan (a red man with pointed ears, a long tail and a pitch fork), but the fact remains that this is biblical theology. When Lucifer rebelled against God and was judged, some of the angels fell with him and became the demonic evil angels that oppose Christ and obey Satan (Isa. 14:12-15).

Satan has a well-organized army of evil spirits that obey his every command. Through His sacrificial work on the cross, Christ defeated Satan and his army and we can claim that victory by faith. The believer is to put on the whole armor of God by faith and use the Word of God and believing prayer to oppose and defeat the wicked one.

But perhaps there is another factor involved in this war. After the church is taken to heaven, believers will stand before the judgment Seat of Christ and have their life examined. It seems likely that Satan will be present at this event and will accuse the saints, pointing out all the “spots and wrinkles” in the church (Eph. 5:24-27).

The name devil means “accuser,” and Satan means “adversary.” Satan stands at the throne of God and fights the saints by accusing them. But Jesus Christ, the “heavenly Advocate” (1 John 2:1-2), represents the church before God’s holy throne. Because Jesus Christ died for us, we can overcome Satan’s accusations “by the blood of the Lamb.” Our salvation is secure; not because of our own works, but because of His finished work at Calvary.

How furious Satan will be when the church comes forth in glory “without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing.” When the accuser sees that his tactics have failed, he will become angry and threaten the very peace of heaven.

How does this future invisible war apply to the church today? The same serpent who accuses the saints in heaven also deceives the nations on earth (Rev. 12:9); and one of his strategies is to lie about the church. He deceives the nations into thinking that the people of God are dangerous, deluded, and even destructive. It is through Satan’s deception that the leaders of the nations band together against Christ and His people . God’s people in every age must expect the world’s opposition, but the church can always defeat the enemy by being faithful to Jesus Christ.

Christ’s shed blood gives us our perfect standing before God (1 John 1:5-2:2). But our witness of God’s Word and our willingness to lay down our lives for Christ defeats Satan as well. Satan is not equal to God; he is not omnipotent, omnipresent, or omniscient. His power is limited and his tactics must fail when God’s people trust the power of the blood and of the Word. Nothing Satan does can rob us of “salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ” (Rev. 12:10), if we are yielded to Him. God’s great purposes will be fulfilled!
Believers in any age or situation can rejoice in this victory, no matter how difficult their experiences may be. Our warfare is not against flesh and blood, but against the spiritual forces of the wicked one; and these have been defeated by our Saviour (Eph. 6:10ff).

One thing is certain, we cannot afford to be ignorant of this invisible war because it is waged right here and now! The enemy of our souls wants to gain control of our hearts and minds. Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against spiritual powers.

There was a research poll done by Barna Research Group, Ltd., of Oxnard, California in which they discovered the following: Nearly two out of three American adults (62%) agreed that Satan is not a living being but a symbol of evil. And even more alarming is that among evangelical Christians, 52% deny Satan’s existence! 72% of Catholics say the devil is non-existent. Conclusion: One of the major battlefields is taking place within the church! This is probably because Satan is not being preached; people in the pews want to hear about warm and fuzzy things, like cute chubby angels with wings. They don’t want to hear about the coming war with Satan and St. Michael and all of his angels.

The Christian will need resources for this warfare. An army does not send its soldiers into battle clad only in shorts and sneakers! Neither does God send His people naked into the world to war with its prince and his demons.

As believers we need to put on the full armor of God – not a part of it but all of it! This armor comes from God. It’s spiritual in nature. You can’t buy it. It won’t be given by the government. It is received by faith. It is real. It is necessary. Why? So that when the attack comes (and it will come) we can stand our ground!

What are some of the clothes we should put on?

Helmet of salvation: so that we will have the mind of Christ to keep us in the truth.
Breastplate of righteousness: so that we can have a pure heart.
Shield of faith: so that God’s greatness will give us spiritual protection.
Belt of truth: to protect us from error; and a discernment of right and wrong.
Shoes of readiness: so that we can better stand our ground; to be ready to move forward.

Our allies in this invisible war are nothing less than the three Persons of the Trinity! We have the Father to pray to, the Spirit to pray in, and the Son to pray through.

We don’t fight for the victory; we fight from the victory. The victory was won on Calvary by Jesus Christ. We fight in His name, from a position of victory. Jesus has already put His feet on the neck of the devil and He wants us to follow His example.

What are some of the weapons we can use?

We have the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God. It’s not just a protective weapon used for defensive purposes. It’s also an offensive weapon.
It’s a “cutting” weapon. It is quick and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword. It’s alive and active. It can “cut to pieces” all other false religions and philosophies.

We need to keep open our supply lines to the battle, which is prayer. As long as the lines of communication are open, we can call for firepower to help when we need it on the front lines. Satan fears prayer; he knows what a vital force it is when arrayed against him, especially when we invoke the name of Jesus.

Prayer is a mighty weapon in the hands of a committed Christian. In the book of James 5:16 we read: “The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and wonderful results.”

Yes, prayer can be used as a weapon. We can pray against the devil. We can bind him in Jesus’ name. In prayer we can bind the binder. We can tie him up and rob his house as Jesus’ taught us. For too long the devil has been robbing the church of Christ. Let us turn the table on him!

Our invisible war battle strategy is to preach the Gospel. In Ephesians 6:19 Paul says, “Pray also for me that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the Gospel.” We need spiritual courage for these days. The devil is out to destroy us. But if we work with our allies and let Christ’s victory be ours, we can defeat him.

Our Lord Jesus took seriously the reality of Satan and his demonic forces, and so should we. This doesn’t mean we should blame every headache and interruption on the demons, but it does mean we should respect Satan’s power (like a roaring lion, 1 Peter 5:8) and his subtlety (like a serpent, 2 Cor. 11:3). One of Satan’s chief traps is to get people to think he doesn’t exist or, if he does exist, he’s not worth worrying about.

If we use the weapons that God has provided us: to use the Bible; pray continually and proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ, then Satan will be put to flight. That’s the way to victory! That’s the way we win the Invisible War!

Let us pray:
O God, who declares thy almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity: Mercifully grant unto us such a measure of thy grace, that we, running to obtain thy promises, may be made partakers of thy heavenly treasure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.


The Clever Steward

Rev. Deacon Allen Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
September 22, 2013, Pentecost XVIII

Amos 8:4-7, Psalm 113, 1Timothy 2:1-7, Luke 16:1-13

From the Old Testament:
“And the Sabbath, that we may offer wheat for sale, that we may make the ephah small and the shekel great, and deal deceitfully with false balances, that we may buy the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and sell the refuse of the wheat?”

From the First letter of St. Paul’s to Timothy:
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way.

And from the Gospel of St. Luke:
The master commended the dishonest steward for his shrewdness; for the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.

Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation.

Those of us who have retired or are thinking about retirement will from time to time look at our investments. And given that most of us are not knowledgeable about financial matters, we will seek out a financial advisor: someone who will advise us and perhaps manage our investments for us.

If you own income property, you might hire a property manager or management company to handle your investment; someone who will help you find tenants; someone who will deal with the complaints and maintenance of the property.

Obviously, this involves a lot of trust on your part that your financial advisor or your management company will have your best interests at heart; that they will be knowledgeable and honest; and that you will receive a good return on your investment.
Now I can’t resist giving a political example, because there is just so much sermon material with our elected officials. Does not our government take our money, through taxes, and “invest” it and spend it for our benefit? And if we don’t think they are doing a good job on our behalf, they get “fired” [like the steward from our gospel reading] or voted out of office. Are we not the master and our elected officials the steward? And does not the steward or elected official think that our money is theirs to spend however they see fit? Are we not $17 Trillion in debt? I think the whole lot of them should be fired! But that’s just my opinion.

In our Gospel reading this morning, Jesus tells a parable about a master and his cleaver steward. A steward is someone who manages another’s wealth. He does not own that wealth himself, but he has the privilege of enjoying it and using it for the profit of his master. This was very similar to a financial advisor or property manager of today. The most important thing about a steward is that he serves his master faithfully (1 Cor. 4:2). When he looks at the riches around him, the steward must remember that they belong to his master, not to him personally, and that they must be used in a way that will please and profit the master.

This particular steward forgot that he was a steward and began to act as if he were the owner. He became a “prodigal steward” who wasted his master’s wealth. His master heard about it and immediately asked for an inventory of his goods and an audit of his books. He also fired his steward.

Before we judge this man too severely, let’s examine our own lives to see how faithfully we have been as stewards of what God has given to us. To begin with, we are stewards of the material wealth that we have, whether much or little; and we will one day have to answer to God for the way we have acquired it and used it.

Christian stewardship goes beyond paying God a tithe of our income and then using the remainder as we please. True stewardship means that we thank God for all that we have (Deut. 8:11-18) and use it as He directs. Giving God 10 percent of our income is a good way to begin our faithful stewardship, but we must remember that God should control what we do with the remaining 90 percent as well.

We are also stewards of our time (Eph. 5:15-17). The phrase “redeeming the time” comes from the business world and means “buying up the opportunity.” Time is eternity, minted into precious minutes and handed to us to use either wisely or carelessly. The main lesson of this narrative is that the steward, as dishonest as he was, used his opportunity wisely and prepared for the future. Life ceased to be “enjoyment” and became “investment.”

One of the important things that we should spend our time on is prayer. Timothy tells us that prayer is most important in the public worship of the church. It speaks highly of our church that we have continued our prayer group that meets before church. Our numbers may have declined, but there is a faithful remnant that continues.

But it is also important to pray in our worship service, which we do. However, we all need to prepare ourselves for prayer. Our hearts must be right with God and with each other. We must really want to pray, and not pray simply to please people or to fulfill a religious duty. Prayer is an act of worship, not just an expression of our wants and needs. There should be a reverence in our hearts as we pray to God.

Many believers do not realize that prayer is based on the work of Jesus Christ as Saviour and Mediator. If the basis for prayer is the sacrificial work of Jesus Christ on the cross, then prayer is a most important activity in a church. Not to pray is to slight the cross! To pray only for ourselves is to deny the worldwide outreach of the cross. We pray for “all” because Christ died for “all” and it is God’s will that “all” be saved.

Christians are stewards of the gifts and abilities God has given them (1 Peter 4:10), and we must use those gifts and abilities to serve others. The thief says, “What’s yours is mine – I’ll take it!” The selfish man says, “What’s mine is mine – I’ll keep it!” But the Christian must say, “What’s mine is a gift from God – I’ll share it!” We are stewards and we must use our abilities to win the lost, encourage the saints, and meet the needs of hurting people.

Finally, God’s people are stewards of the Gospel (1 Thes. 2:4). God has committed the treasure of His truth to us (2 Cor. 4:7), and we must guard this treasure (1 Tim. 6:20) and invest it in the lives of others (2 Tim. 2:2). The enemy wants to rob the church of this treasure (Jude 3-4), and we must be alert and courageous.

Like this steward, we will one day have to give an account of our stewardship (Rom. 14:10-12; 2 Cor. 5:10ff). If we have been faithful, the Lord will give us His commendation and reward (Matt. 25:21; 1 Cor. 4:5); but if we have not been faithful, we will lose those blessings, even though we will be saved and enter heaven (1 Cor. 3:13-15).

The steward in our Gospel reading this morning knew he would lose his job. He could not change the past, but he could prepare for the future. How: By making friends of his master’s creditors so that they would take him in when his master threw him out. He gave each of them a generous discount, provided they paid up immediately, and they were only too glad to cooperate. Even his master complimented him on his clever plan (Luke 16:8).

Jesus did not commend the steward for robbing his master or for encouraging others to be dishonest. Jesus commended the man for his wise use of opportunity. “The children of this world” are experts at seizing opportunities for making money and friends and getting ahead. God’s people should take heed and be just as wise when it comes to managing the spiritual affairs of life. “The children of this world” are wiser only “in their generation”; they see the things of time, but not the things of eternity. Because the child of God lives “with eternity’s values in view,” he should be able to make far better use of his opportunities.

The prophet Amos denounced Israel, as well as her neighbors, for reliance upon military might, and for grave injustice in social dealings, abhorrent immorality, and shallow, meaningless piety. He also preached that the end was coming.

In our Old Testament reading today, it talked about how the merchants trampled on the poor and needy and robbed them of the little they possessed (Amos 8:4), an indictment that Amos had often brought against the people (Amos 2:6¬-7). When they did business, the merchants used inaccurate measurements so they could rob their customers. The Law demanded that they use accurate weights and measures (Lev. 19:35-36; Deut. 25:13-16), but they cared only for making as much money as possible.

Added to the deception was their desecration of the Sabbath and the religious holy days. The worship of God interrupted their business, and they didn’t like it! You might expect Gentile merchants to ignore the holy days (Neh. 13:15-22), but certainly not the Jewish merchants. The poor were unable to pay for the necessities of life and had to go into servitude to care for their families, and the merchants would have them arrested for the least little offense, even their inability to pay for a pair of shoes.

The evil vendors would not only alter their weights and measures and inflate their prices, but they would also cheapen their products by mixing the sweepings of the threshing floor with the grain. You didn’t get pure grain; you got the chaff as well. Timothy said, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Tim. 6:10).

Jesus gave three admonitions, based on the experience of the steward. First, He admonishes us to use our opportunities wisely (Luke 16:9). One of these days, life will end, and we will not be able to earn or use money. Therefore, while we have the opportunity, we must invest our money in “making friends” for the Lord. This means winning people to Christ who will one day welcome us to heaven. Our lives and our resources will one day end, so it behooves us to use them wisely.

The heritage of the past must be used wisely in the present to guarantee spiritual dividends in the future. All of us should want to meet people in heaven who trusted Christ because we helped to pay the bill for Gospel witness around the world, starting at home. Thoreau wrote that a man is wealthy in proportion to the number of things he can afford to do without, and he was right.

Our Lord’s second admonition is be faithful in the way you use your material wealth (Luke 16:10-12). He makes it clear that you cannot divorce the “spiritual” from the “material.”

Why is our Lord so concerned about the way we use money? Because money is not neutral; it is basically evil, and only God can sanctify it and use it for good. It is significant that both Paul and Peter called money “filthy lucre” (1 Tim. 3:3, 8; Titus 1:7, 11; 1 Peter 5:2). Apparently by its very nature, money defiles and debases those who love it and let it control their lives.
People who are unfaithful in the way they use money are also unfaithful in the way they use the “true riches” of God’s kingdom. We cannot be orthodox in our theology and at the same time heretical in the way we use money. God will not commit His true riches to individuals or ministries that waste money and will not give an honest accounting to the people who have supported them. When it came to money, Paul was very careful that everything was honest “not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men” (2 Cor. 8:21).

Finally, the Lord admonishes us to be wholly devoted to God and single-minded (Luke 16:13). We cannot love or serve two masters, anymore than we can walk in two directions at one time. If we choose to serve money, then we cannot serve God. If we choose to serve God, then we will not serve money. Jesus is demanding integrity, total devotion to God that puts Him first in everything (Matt. 6:33).

If God is our Master, then money will be our servant, and we will use our resources in the will of God. But if God is not our Master, then we will become the servants of money, and money is a terrible master! We will start wasting our lives instead of investing them, and we will one day find ourselves “friendless” as we enter the gates of glory.

Jesus said, “Make money your servant and use today’s opportunities as investments in tomorrow’s dividends.” We need to be a wise and clever servant. There are many lost souls to win to the Saviour. May our Master be pleased!

Let us pray:
Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.


Surrender All

Rev. Deacon Allen Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
September 8, 2013, Pentecost XVI

Jeremiah 18:1-11, Psalm 139:1-6; Philemon 1:8-20, Luke 14:25-33

From the Old Testament:
The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.”

From St. Paul’s Epistle to Philemon:
I appeal to you for my child, Ones’imus, whose father I have become in my imprisonment. I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart. I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel; but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own free will.

And from the Gospel of St. Luke:
So therefore, whoever of you does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.

Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation.

It is always a good idea to take inventory of what you have from time to time; what’s important to you. Is it your family? Is it your job? Is it your material things; the things that you possess? Perhaps God is important to you? I hope so! And I hope you do this exercise sooner rather than later.

So, once you have determined what is important to you; what is of value to you; now imagine it’s gone! Well, that is what God expects of us, if we are to be His disciple; we have to surrender all to Him. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you literally have to give up everything, however, it does mean that you put God first in your life; and if called upon to give up something, you will do so willingly without hesitation.

In our epistle reading this morning, we have the apostle Paul a prisoner in Rome, and his friend Philemon was in Colossae, and the human link between them was a runaway slave named Onesimus. The details are not clear, but it appears that Onesimus robbed his master and then fled to Rome, hoping to “disappear” into the crowded city. But, in the providence of God, he met Paul and was converted!
Now what? Perhaps Onesimus should remain with Paul, who needed all the assistance he could get. But what about the slave’s responsibilities to his master back in Colossae? The law permitted a master to execute a rebellious slave, but Philemon was a Christian. If he forgave Onesimus, what would the other masters and slaves think? If he punished him, how would it affect his testimony as a Christian? What should Philemon do?

Estimates suggest that there were 60 million slaves in the Roman Empire, men and women who were treated like pieces of merchandise to buy and sell. The average slave sold for 500 denarii (one denarius was a day’s wage for a common laborer), while the educated and skilled slaves were priced as high as 50,000 denarii. A master could free a slave, or a slave could buy his freedom if he could raise the money (Acts 22:28).

If a slave ran away, the master would register the name and description with the officials, and the slave would be on the “wanted” list. Any free citizen who found a runaway slave could assume custody and even intercede with the owner. The slave was not automatically returned to the owner, nor was he automatically sentenced to death. While it is true that some masters were cruel, many of them were reasonable and humane. After all, a slave was an expensive and useful piece of personal property.

After Onesimus was converted, he was no longer “just a slave”; he was now Paul’s son in the faith and Philemon’s Christian brother! This does not mean that his conversion altered Onesimus’ legal position as a slave, or that it canceled his debt to the law or to his master. However, it did mean that Onesimus had a new standing before God and before God’s people, and Philemon had to take this into consideration.

Paul loved Onesimus and would have kept him in Rome as a fellow worker, but he did not want to tell Philemon what to do. Voluntary sacrifice and service, motivated by love, is what the Lord wants from His children.

As Christians, we must believe that God is in control of even the most difficult experiences of life. God permitted Onesimus to go to Rome that he might meet Paul and become a believer. Onesimus left for Rome a slave, but he would return to Colossae a brother.

Paul did not suggest that Philemon ignore the slave’s crimes and forget about the debt Onesimus owed. Rather, Paul offered to pay the debt himself. “Put it on my account – I will repay it!” Paul was willing to pay the price: to surrender all.

It takes more than love to solve the problem; love must pay a price. God does not save us by His love, for though He loves the whole world, the whole world is not saved. God saves sinners by His grace (Eph. 2:8-9), and grace is love that pays the price. God in His holiness could not ignore the debt that we owe, for God must be faithful to His own Law. So He paid the debt for us! Jesus surrendered all on the cross for our redemption. Are we willing to surrender all to Him?

In last Sunday’s sermon, we had Jesus eating at a Pharisee’s house and we learned that a person’s status in the community was important to some people. The closer you sat to the host, the more important you were; the higher status you had. These feasts were a way to climb up the social ladder. We also learned that God doesn’t care about our social status; He cares about those who choose to walk in His way; those who love Him and bring glory to Him.

When Jesus left the Pharisee’s house, great crowds followed Him, but He was not impressed by their enthusiasm. He knew that most of those in the crowd were not the least bit interested in spiritual things. Some wanted only to see miracles, others heard that He fed the hungry, and a few hoped He would overthrow Rome and establish David’s promised kingdom. They were only interested in what He could do for them. They were expecting the wrong things and offering nothing of themselves.

Jesus turned to the multitude and preached a sermon that deliberately thinned out the ranks. He made it clear that, when it comes to personal discipleship, He is more interested in quality than quantity. In the matter of saving lost souls, He wants His house to be filled (Luke 14:23); but in the matter of personal discipleship, He wants only those who are willing to pay the price: to surrender all.

A “disciple” is a learner, one who attaches himself or herself to a teacher in order to learn a trade or a subject. Perhaps our nearest modern equivalent is “apprentice,” one who learns by watching and by doing. The word disciple was the most common name for the followers of Jesus Christ.

Jesus seems to make a distinction between salvation and discipleship. Salvation is open to all who will come by faith, while discipleship is for believers willing to pay a price. Salvation means coming to the cross and trusting Jesus Christ, while discipleship means carrying the cross and following Jesus Christ. Jesus wants as many sinners saved as possible, so “that my house may be filled,” but He cautions us not to take discipleship lightly, for there is a price to pay.

To begin with, we must love Christ supremely, even more than we love our own flesh and blood (Luke 14:26-27). In our Gospel reading it states: “If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” The word hate does not suggest positive antagonism but rather “to love less.” We should love God the most, and then ourselves and our families. Our love for Christ must be so strong that all other love is like hatred in comparison. In fact, we must hate our own lives and be willing to bear the cross after Him.

What does it mean to “carry the cross”? It means daily identification with Christ in shame, suffering, and surrender to God’s will. It means death to self, to our own plans and ambitions, and a willingness to serve Him as He directs (John 12:23-28). A “cross” is something we willingly accept from God as part of His will for our lives. When you follow the Lord, you never know what will happen next.
God instructed Jeremiah to go to the potter’s house so that he could hear God’s words. The potter sat before two parallel stone wheels that were joined by a shaft. He turned the bottom wheel with his feet and worked the clay on the top wheel as the wheel turned. As Jeremiah watched, he saw that the clay resisted the potter’s hand so that the vessel was ruined but the potter patiently kneaded the clay and made another vessel.

As the potter has power over the clay, so God has sovereign authority over the nations and His people. His actions are always consistent with His nature, which is holy, just, wise, and loving.

Jesus gave three parables to explain why He makes such costly demands on His followers: the man building a tower, the king fighting a war, and the salt losing its flavor. The usual interpretation is that believers are represented by the man building the tower and the king fighting the war, and we had better “count the cost” before we start, lest we start and are not able to finish. However, Campbell Morgan suggests that the builder and the king represent not the believer but Jesus Christ. He is the One who must “count the cost” to see whether we are the kind of material He can use to build the church and battle the enemy. He cannot get the job done with halfhearted followers who will not pay the price.

Discipleship is serious business. If we are not true disciples, then Jesus cannot build the tower and fight the war. “There is always an “if” in connection with discipleship,” wrote Oswald Chambers, “and it implies that we need not [be disciples] unless we like. There is never any compulsion; Jesus does not coerce us. There is only one way of being a disciple, and that is by being devoted to Jesus.”

If we tell Jesus that we want to take up our cross and follow Him as His disciples, then He wants us to know exactly what we are getting into. He wants no false expectancy, no illusions, and no bargains. He wants to use us as stones for building His church, soldiers for battling His enemies, and He is looking for quality.

After all, He was on His way to Jerusalem when He spoke these words, and look what happened to Him there! He does not ask us to do anything for Him that He has not already done for us.

To some, Jesus says, “You cannot be my disciples!” Why? Because they will not forsake all for Him, bear shame and reproach for Him, and let their love for Him control them.

In an age of unconcern and indecision, the prophet Jeremiah was burdened and decisive, and God honored him. Humanly speaking, his ministry was a failure, but from a divine perspective, he was an outstanding success. We need men and women of Jeremiah’s caliber serving in the church and the nation today. There’s a price to pay: to surrender all, but there’s also a crown to win.

Let us pray:
Grant us, O Lord, we pray thee, to trust in you with all our hearts; for, as you always resist the proud who confide in their own strength, so you never forsake those who make their boast of your mercy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.


Spiritual Hospitality

Rev. Deacon Allen Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
September 1, 2013, Pentecost XV

Jeremiah 2:4-13, Psalm 81:1, 10-16; Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16; Luke 14:1, 7-14

From the Old Testament:
But my people have changed their glory for that which does not profit. Be appalled, O heavens, at this, be shocked, be utterly desolate, says the Lord.

From St. Paul’s Epistle to the Hebrews:
Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.

And from the Gospel of St. Luke:
“But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”

Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation.

Several years ago, Trinity Church or First Congregational Church of Waltham, which it was known at the time, was the site of Bristol Lodge and Soup Kitchen. We also provided shelter to homeless women. We did not provide the management of these programs, but we did provide the building and in return we received a modest rent from the organization. Anyone, the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind who was in need of a hot meal or a place to stay was welcomed. Trinity Church provided this service for some 18 years, and it came at a price. This program cost the church on the “wear and tear” of the physical building. It cost the church on its human resources; and it cost the church on its financial resources from increased utility and insurance expense.

A few years ago, Trinity Church went to the city to ask for financial help to restore this beautiful building; to perhaps receive some reward for the service we provided to the most vulnerable citizens of Waltham for so many years. Three other churches had received financial support from the city after doing far less, but unfortunately the city had a short memory and we weren’t treated very nice. We received no reward or financial support to restore this building.

But we didn’t do it in order to receive a reward or repayment from those in need or less fortunate. We did it to show our love for mankind. “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these brethren, you did it to me” (Matt. 25:40). And we “will be repaid at the resurrection of the just” (Luke 14:14).

Sabbath Day hospitality was an important part of Jewish life, so it was not unusual for Jesus to be invited to a home for a meal after the weekly synagogue service. Sometimes the host invited Him sincerely because he wanted to learn more of God’s truth. But many times Jesus was asked to dine only so His enemies could watch Him and find something to criticize and condemn. That was the case on the occasion described in our Gospel reading this morning when a leader of the Pharisees invited Jesus to dinner.

Jesus was fully aware of what was in men’s hearts (John 2:24-25), so He was never caught off guard. In fact, instead of hosts or guests judging Jesus, it was Jesus who passed judgment on them when they least expected it. Indeed, in this respect, He was a dangerous person to sit with at a meal or to follow on the road! In Luke 14, we see Jesus dealing with five different kinds of people and exposing what was false in their lives and their thinking. I am only going to touch on two: False popularity and false hospitality.

Experts in management tell us that most people wear an invisible sign that reads, “Please make me feel important”; if we heed that sign, we can succeed in human relations. On the other hand, if we say or do things that make others feel insignificant, we will fail. Then people will respond by becoming angry and resentful, because everybody wants to be noticed and made to feel important.

Think about how it is when we have a fundraiser. The pastor is given a list of all the people who helped and he is expected to read all the names from the pulpit and the names also get printed in the next newsletter. Heaven forbid that a name gets missed: the person might be offended, feelings hurt and they may even threaten to leave the church. This is why I personally don’t like to read the list of names that helped on a fundraiser. I would prefer to state: “I want to thank all those that helped on our fundraiser.” [Period]

We need to ask ourselves: why did we help on the fundraiser? Did we do it to help the church financially? Or did we do it to receive recognition for a job well done? You know what you did and God knows what you did. That’s what is important!

In Jesus’ day, as today, there were “status symbols” that helped people enhance and protect their high standing in society. If you were invited to the “right places,” then people would know how important you really were. The emphasis was on reputation, not character. It was more important to sit in the right places than to live the right kind of life.

In the New Testament times, the closer you sat to the host, the higher you stood on the social ladder and the more attention (and invitations) you would receive from others. Naturally, many people rushed to the “head table” when the doors were opened because they wanted to be important.

This kind of attitude betrays a false view of success. Albert Einstein said, “Try not to become a man of success, but try to become a man of value.” While there may be some exceptions, it’s usually true that valuable people are eventually recognized and appropriately honored. Success that comes only from self-promotion is temporary, and you may be embarrassed as you are asked to move down (Prov. 25:6-7).

When Jesus advised the guests to take the lowest places, He was not giving them a “gimmick” that guaranteed promotion. The false humility that takes the lowest place is just as hateful to God as the pride that takes the highest place. God is not impressed by our status in society or in the church. He is not influenced by what people say or think about us, because He sees the thoughts and motives of the heart (1 Sam. 16:7). God still humbles the proud and exalts the humble (James 4:6).

Humility is a fundamental grace in the Christian life, and yet it is elusive; if you know you have it, you have lost it! It has well been said that humility is not thinking less of ourselves; it is simply not thinking of ourselves at all.

Jesus knew that the host had invited his guests for two reasons: 1) to pay them back because they had invited him to past feasts, or 2) to put them under his debt so that they would invite him to future feasts. Such hospitality was not an expression of love and grace but rather an evidence of pride and selfishness. He was “buying” recognition.

Jesus does not prohibit us from entertaining family and friends, but He warns us against entertaining only family and friends exclusively and habitually. That kind of “fellowship” quickly degenerates into a “mutual admiration society” in which each one tries to outdo the other. I think of our coffee hour, where one week we have coffee and let’s say 3 items of food. The next week, the person in charge feels they need to do as much or more. Now my stomach is all in favor of competition; “bring it on” but the purpose of coffee and some simple food is just to assist us in good fellowship.

The basis for fellowship is brotherly love. And the deepest kind of fellowship is not based on race or family relationship; it is based on the spiritual life we have in Christ. A church fellowship based on anything other than love for Christ and for one another simply will not last.

Where there is true Christian love, there will also be hospitality (Heb. 13:2). This was an important ministry in the early church because persecution drove many believers away from their homes. Also, there were traveling ministers who needed places to stay (3 John 5-8). Many poor saints could not afford to stay in an inn; and since the churches met in homes (Rom. 16:5), it was natural for a visitor to just stay with his host. Pastors are supposed to be lovers of hospitality (Titus 1:8); but all saints should be “given to hospitality” (Rom. 12:13).

Moses (Gen. 18) gives the story of Abraham showing generous hospitality to Jesus Christ and two of His angels. Abraham did not know who they were when he welcomed them; it was only later that he discovered the identities of his illustrious guests.
You and I may not entertain angels in a literal sense, though it is possible; but any stranger could turn out to be a messenger of blessing to us.

Love also expresses itself in concern (Heb. 13:3). It was not unusual for Christians to be arrested and imprisoned for their faith. To identify with these prisoners might be dangerous; yet Christ’s love demanded a ministry to them. To minister to a Christian prisoner in the name of Christ is to minister to Christ Himself (Matt. 25:36, 40). In our free country we are not arrested for our religious beliefs; but in other parts of the world, believers suffer for their faith. All across the Middle East, Christians are being persecuted and killed; churches burned to the ground. Our prayers are with them.

Our motive for sharing must be the praise of God and not the applause of men, the eternal reward in heaven and not the temporary recognition on earth. “You can’t get your reward twice! On the day of judgment, many who today are first in the eyes of men will be last in God’s eyes, and many who are last in the eyes of men will be first in the eyes of God (Luke 13:30).

In our Lord’s time, it was not considered proper to ask poor people and handicapped people to public banquets. The women were not invited either. But Jesus commanded us to put these needy people at the top of our guest list because they cannot pay us back. If our hearts are right, God will see to it that we are properly rewarded, though getting a reward must not be the motive for our generosity. When we serve others from unselfish hearts, we are laying up treasures in heaven (Matt. 6:20) and becoming “rich toward God” (Luke 12:21).

Our modern world is very competitive, and it is easy for God’s people to become more concerned about profit and loss than they are about sacrifice and service. “What will I get out of it?” may easily become life’s most important question (Matt. 19:27ff). But we are also becoming an entitlement and dependant country. God is being replaced with the government and this is intentional by some godless elected officials. We must strive to maintain the unselfish attitude that Jesus had; realize our spiritual hospitality and share what we have with others. Then we will receive our reward that Jesus has made possible through the sacrifice of His Body and Blood on the cross for our redemption. And that we are heirs, through hope, of His everlasting kingdom.

Let us pray:
Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things: Grant in our hearts the love of your Name; increase in us true religion; nourish us with all goodness; and bring forth in us the fruit of good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.